This scene required only a few hundred polys. I rendered a tree from xFrog and use camera mapping to project it onto geo consisting of a cylinder (for the trunk) and an icosphere for the leaves. The shadows are a bit funky but I’m sure I could fix that with a little more work. A set of assets like this would be very handy for playing around with composition of landscapes, and allow a lot of detail in a scene. I could just use image planes but this is a step up from that, perhaps for mid-ground assets.
So here’s a comparison. Foreground tree is mesh, midground tree is texture projected onto simplified geo, and background trees are billboards. Lighting is a problem.
This definitely works better in cycles. Cloud is an image plane courtesy of PhotoBash. Total scene is about 250,000 polys, nearly all of which is in the hero tree front left.